KEN HOUSTON: THE SQUEEZED MIDDLE ALWAYS PAY THE PRICE

KEN HOUSTON

THE ‘squeezed middle’ is used to describe those not poor enough to qualify for state benefits and other freebies and those not rich enough to bother.

Usually the description is spoken off in economic terms but it would appear that down in England, even middle-class offenders could face extra sanctions which will be of little or no relevance to the rich or poor.

Proposals by the Ministry of Justice are calling for those charged with offences, and who plead or are found to be guilty, to face paying a contribution to the costs of the court, the sum of £1,200 being bandied about.

However, if the offenders cannot pay or refuse to pay (and the authorities are unable to wrench the money from them), the charge will no longer apply after two years.

This suggests that at one end of the social scale, the offender will not pay as a result of having little or no assets (in fact is probably heavily in debt) while at the other end, the sum charged will be considered a pittance in terms of overall wealth.

But what of the mugs in the middle? Clearly in their cases the authorities will be able to seize assets, put a charge on any equity they have on the family home or simply force the offender (if still earning) to take out a personal loan.

It is not yet known if these proposals will even become part of a Parliamentary Bill never mind law but the thinking behind them gives a clear warning to those on the centre-right who believe that direct payment for some services is the way ahead for the NHS.

In that event, the most likely scenario is members of the skilled working and professional middle classes will find themselves paying for NHS services which were originally ‘free’ but without any improvement in medical care and access to it (with Matron Nicola, especially, determined that there should be no ‘queue-jumping’ in our wonderful Scottish NHS).

Even some pensioners will be expected to pay if their incomes are high enough or they have access to relatively large pension pots.

Meanwhile, ‘free care at the point of use’ will be given to those who have never in their lives contributed to the system – e.g. the workshy, perennial students, recently-arrived immigrants and asylum-seekers (real and bogus).

The rich, of course, (and by ‘rich’ I don’t mean someone living in a modern, four-bedroom detached house in Bearsden) will not be affected, having the financial means to bypass the NHS anyway.

A ‘part-pay’ NHS would end up as another tax trap which the middle/aspirational classes – as the main victims – would be mad to fall for.

SINKING CLASS PREJUDICE

Three years ago this month the centenary of the sinking of the liner, RMS Titanic, was commemorated in many parts of the UK, particularly Belfast (where she was built), Liverpool (where she was registered) and Southampton (from where she embarked and many of the crew lived).

The occasion led to a plethora of books, some of them rather expensive. Now they can be picked up for tuppence, or a bargain £2 in the case of one of the better works on the subject, Titanic Lives by Richard Davenport-Hines.

Titanic Lives focuses not so much on the ship but those individuals who were closely involved with it either as builders, shareholders, employees and passengers.

Subjects Include the incredibly wealthy banker, JP Morgan, who through a series of complicated company mergers and acquisitions, was the ultimate owner of the doomed ship, who cancelled his passage at the last moment but who died almost exactly a year after the sinking.

At the other end of the spectrum we learn the fate of steerage passengers from dirt-poor countries like Norway (back then not the independent democratic socialist paradise aspired to by the SNP).

The book both confirms and demolishes one of the greatest controversies surrounding that terrible night – wealthy or comfortably-off passengers stepping into half-empty lifeboats dressed in warm clothing, leaving mothers, children and babies in steerage to drown.

But it also raises a somewhat forgotten issue, which was the fate of second-class passengers, males in particular. While one-third of men in first-class survived, only 8 per cent of those in second-class did so, half as many of those in third–class (16 pc).

This is despite the fact that second-class passengers had quicker and easier access to the boat deck (and therefore lifeboats) than those in steerage.

There are several interpretations of this, one being the typical stoicism of those who travelled second-class and their acceptance of crew instructions not to enter the boats, whereas young and physically-fit men from third-class may have been determined to ‘fight for their lives’ in the panic that developed during the ship’s last 60 minutes.

Whatever the reason it is clear that, in relative terms, breadwinners in the ‘squeezed middle’ suffered more than those at either end of the social spectrum.

Seems like a bit of a metaphor for SS Great Britain 2015…..as she slowly sinks to the bottom.

Twitter: @PropPRMan

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Be the first to write a comment.

Letters to the Editor